07 April 2014

Am I committing adultery?

5th Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

So, to continue these morning's lecture in homiletics. . .it's always good homiletical practice when preparing a homily to ask: why does this reading appear on this day in the lectionary cycle? It might be where it is just by accident, but that's no reason not to think about why it might be where it is. Why is the story of the woman caught in adultery assigned to Monday of the 5th Week of Lent Year A? Well, it's Lent, so we have an occasion to reflect on the nature of sin. Palm Sunday is coming up, and we are given a chance to ponder on the mercy Christ shows the woman, a function of his Lordship. Easter is just two weeks away, and we're given a chance to chew over whether or not we're exercising our own kingship in Christ by showing mercy to those who have sin against us. All good reasons. But focus for a moment on the sin involved in this story: adultery. Here it's obvious that we're talking about marital infidelity of a sexual nature. However, Scripture calls out another sort of adultery, one we usually name “idolatry,” that is, the infidelity we live when we worship smaller gods. This last week of Lent is a chance for each one of us to stare w/o blinking into our marital relationship with Christ and ask: am I committing adultery?

Skip over all the questions about who's the bride and who's the groom and focus on the fidelity required to live out a fruitful marital bond. If marriage is the sacramental sign of Christ's love for his bride, the Church, then we know that fidelity to Christ and his mission must come first. Whether we identify more closely with Christ the Bridegroom, or with the Church, his Bride, we are still bound by a love that radically alters every other relationship we might find ourselves in. What every faithful married couple knows is that being married is all about living the world of other-relationships in terms of the marriage bond. Husband or wife come first. Before friends, family, neighbors. Always first. To do anything less creeps toward adultery. Maybe not actual sexual infidelity, but something potentially worse: spiritual infidelity. Christ loves the Church, and the Church loves Christ. All other loves are ordered to this spiritual architecture. If another love intervenes, if another love takes precedence, then the sacramental witness of the marriage is threatened by idolatry, the love of smaller gods. The threat to the individual who is wedded to Christ is hardly less serious.

Spend this last week of Lent asking yourself: as I committing adultery? That is, am I loving something or someone before I love Christ? To put it another way: am I loving Christ in terms of another love, a smaller love? What might this look like? We have all the traditional suspects: pride, lust, wrath, envy, etc. We also our more modernist sins: racism, careerism, celebrity. And on top of these we have the postmodernist sins: techno-addiction, combox vigilantism, Facebook exhibitionism-voyeurism, and cyber-rumor mongering. We could throw in a couple of hundred more, but they all lead down the same dank and dreary path: spiritual adultery. If you find that you are indeed committing adultery, think back to the woman Jesus rescues from the righteous mob. There should be no one around to throw the first stone b/c not one of us is w/o sin. It should be just you and Christ in the sacrament and him saying to you, “Go and sin no more.” As many times as it takes to take hold, “Go and sin no more.” When our fidelity to him fails, his fidelity to us only strengthens. And he is strong enough to get us to Easter. Not just this coming Easter. But all the way to Easter on the last day.

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  1. This kind of imagery can have a very negative effect on certain people. The bride of Christ is the Church, and it is not healthy, in many cases, for an individual to dwell on this subject in this personal way. Adultery is a specific sin, with a specific victim- a spouse. There are individuals who can and have seriously victimized their spouses while trying to engage in ascetic practices- for Christ, but ultimately against Him, because He much prefers us to keep our marriage vows.
    Additionally, you need only turn on the average contemporary Christian music station to recognize there are women who need to hear a homily entitled- God Is Not Your Boyfriend. The formation of an appropriate relationship is necessary. We need people to get married and have children, not keep going down the career track while having impossible expectations until they hit the end of their fertility and suddenly notice men don't even look at them any more. They probably also need to hear a homily entitled God Is Not Your Sugar Daddy.

  2. Understanding of course that this is directed toward the seminarians, I could readily identify with this homily, and in fact have been asking myself a similar question over the past several weeks, and as I think I have it answered, it comes back up in a slightly different guise.

    The homily itself was somewhat dry, but considering the topic, it worked well. I wasn't overly taken with the final two sentences - perhaps those could have been worded differently. But overall, I found this to be a good approach to this Gospel, especially as applied to the people in front of you. Thanks for posting.